My formative years were spent living just a few miles from the ocean. The tides and currents became part of my internal rhythm. I can live happily in the Midwest as long as my body returns to the ocean – any ocean! – at least once a year to crash about, dive beneath, and get swept away by the fierce and wild seas.
Take a moment to think and share about a water source dear to your spiritual story.
While it’s no ocean, I have learned to love the rivers and lakes that form our geography here in Minnesota, which comes from the Dakota phrase “stirring, cloudy waters”. These running waters are an embarrassment of riches to this day, but now more often for our recreation and industry than the spiritual and pragmatic migration of indigenous people.
Marshes, ponds, creeks and lakes provided access to wild rice.
Year round springs offered locations for winter camps.
The native birch trees were used to build canoes that could navigate
great chains of lakes for trade, maple sugar sapping, and socialization between tribes.
Canhasen = A Seasonal Dakota Sugar Camp
Chief Cloudman’s village called the sacred waters of Bde Maka Ska home long before white settlers named it Lake Calhoun after a Vice President who advocated for cultural assimilation and slavery at every turn.
Confluences, the meeting of two separate waterways, have always been important to indigenous people and settlers. The Dakota describe the creation of Minnesota bursting forth from where the Minnesota River and the Mississippi River meet in Mendota, a word that means confluence. This land was especially sacred, but no parcel was ever thought to be owned, for creation and creatures were made for harmony, for movement, for seasons of work and rest, for innovation and migration that respected the fullness of what both had to learn and offer for generations of time. All were expected to show honor by offering time to repair and refresh. And, before movement through the waters, the Dakota often left gifts for the land: tobacco and prayer for the whole of creation: Me-TAH-qu-a oh-YAH-sane. We Are All Related.
(Mitakuye Owasin – All My Relations)
Too often we speak about indigenous people and their deep wisdom for the earth and water as history, as a story that briefly overlapped with our American history. So I think it’s important to say that the Dakota and indigenous people are still here teaching us how to respect Water as Life.
Despite economic pressure from missionaries and government
to stop migrating and begin farming in the 1830s.
Despite countless treaties underpaid and broken,
scarce reservations formed in the 1850s.
Despite war and concentration camp and the hanging
of their most courageous leaders in the 1860s.
Despite the Indian Relocation Act and the boarding school period
that separated families and forced urban assimilation without resources.
The Dakota and other indigenous people are still here,
still speaking on behalf of their spirit and identity…
and all their relations, the whole of creation
which miracle of miracles, includes even those who ignore and forget
their existence on the regular:
settlers and immigrants and descendants – every living being made in God’s image.
Against all odds, they remain our neighbors –
speaking and praying and working to teach the deep connection and truth
so many have lost or had stripped away: Water is Life.
Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others
By Barbara Brown Taylor
From the Dakota, I learn to look for creation right here.
At the confluences in my life.
To keep moving, like water, because it is healthy and natural.
To marvel at the promise that there is enough for everyone…
and the call to play an active role in that reality.
To declare this truth not only as history,
but as beauty that cries for justice still at work today despite so many things.
The Flood Prayer (Creation, Noah, Red Sea, Wilderness Water, Jesus’ Baptism)
This prayer speaks to the joy of enough, of all,
of holy deliverance that knows no limitations or defeat.
For migrant children: to bathe, dignity.
For families in Flint: to drink without fear.
For nations suffering illness and drought.
For Standing Rock’s plea to protect clean water for all.
For rising seas and devastating storms drowning communities.
We have a word about water.
We have a story that informs our sense of forgiveness and life and belonging.
We have a voice to declare it for all people.
We have the power to act as though it is our source, not only a resource.
We have a Spirit who has shown up humid today, saturated breath!
What will you do with this good news, this call to care,
this ancient and damp rhythm that begs for the fullness of life in our lives
AND in the lives of our neighbors?
Listen again to the good news from Psalm 65,
a song of abundance and plenty, a reminder that Water is Life,
a melody that recalls the power of belonging to each other: Me-TAH-qu-a oh-YAH-sane.
You nourish the water and the land, you greatly enrich it.
You water, settle, soften, and bless this world.
It is bountiful and rich.
The wilderness overflows and the world provides
more than enough thanks to your goodness.
Make us instruments of your generosity, your vision,
until the thirst of all your people is quenched and we sing together
that water is life. Amen